THE Zambia National Students Union (ZANASU) has advised students to avoid being used in protests or activities that may set the nation on fire or end up destroying their own lives.
President Misheck Kakonde said ZANASU had kept track of institutions and individuals who have been engaging students to participate in planned countrywide protests to be led by former student leaders, youth from political parties and artistes.
Kakonde said the organisers were flouting seven issues as a point of engagement: gold mining, corruption, Zambia’s debt, lack of observance of human rights by Chinese investors, lack of youth empowerment, the shrinking media space and freedom of speech.
“As a student union mother body, ZANASU does not believe the seven issues for which organisers want to engage students in protests are worth the effort for creating unrest in Zambia. We certainly think the gold issue must be handled with sensitivity but the Lungu administration has not done well in explaining this matter. Even its own Patriotic Front youths are now involved in advocating rebellion over this matter,” he said in a statement from Svenborg, Denmark. “ZANASU has not agreed with the closure of Prime Television although we note that there has been negligence on Prime TV’s part to renew its own license resulting in them having no more cause of complaint. We also note that this administration has not done much to engage the youth in decision making but these are issues which President Lungu must pay attention to. The issues of Zambia’s debt and Chinese treatment of our people, including other matters are issues which must be a subject of discussion but they are no reason to create unrest in Zambia.”
He said unfortunately, some of the student bodies and leaders leading efforts to recruit students were the same ones who have been “sharing coffee” with the Minister of Higher Education.
Kakonde said those leaders had also been secretly meeting with civil society organisations who “will be funding these protests”.
“They have held meetings with aspirants for constituencies like Munali where UNZA is located. As ZANASU, we want to advise our students to avoid being used in protests or activities that may set the nation on fire or end up destroying their own lives. Much as we believe in the right to demonstrations, ZANASU believes in putting dialogue first,” he said. “We also think the current Minister of Higher Education, Brian Mushimba, is failing the President and should be moved to another ministry. The minister may claim ignorance about the impending recruitment of students under his control for demonstrations. This is because the minister is detached from students and has preferred to deal with some students, who on one hand are sharing coffee with him, and on the other hand, are agitators of planned unrest.”
Kakonde said it was also impractical for the minister to ask universities and colleges to refund students for funds not utilised in the last few months when institutions were closed when the funds could have been carried forward.
“We are actually baffled that Brian Mushimba prefers to play to the public gallery by accusing students of using smaller smart phones to insult instead of accessing the inaccessible e-learning. Students have been quiet and not insulted anyone but Dr Mushimba wants to invite them back to the ring. Minister Mushimba must concentrate on resolving issues higher education if at all he has capacity to do so, which we now doubt,” he said.
And Kakonde said under the prevailing COVID-19 conditions, Zambians cannot afford to have gatherings and demonstrations which have a potential to contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
He called on organisers and those leading youths in planned protests to avoid engaging students in protests that may put student lives at health risks.
“The environment is not ripe for holding of peaceful demonstration as protest must have a clear underlying reason. The planned demonstration has no clear goals and will just end up into a riot if not well managed where lives and property will be destroyed,” said Kakonde. “ZANASU will not relent from engaging this administration in resolving issues may be a catalyst for unrest even though this administration has decided to close its doors for such engagement. But if the administration continuously fails to engage, citizens have a right to vote out the administration out of government than set the country on fire.”